Elfrid Payton’s massive summer made possible by a Chris Paul camp snub

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Elfrid Payton had a really, really good sophomore season, one that saw him average 15.9 points, 5.6 boards, 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals while playing more than 35 minutes a night.

Those are massive numbers, regardless of what level of basketball you play.

The problem, however, was that Payton played for Louisiana, a team that finished last season buried in eighth place in the Sun Belt with a forgettable 13-20 record. Payton was a first team all-Sun Belt selection and the guy that every coach game-planned around if they had UL on their schedule, but his notoriety didn’t make it much further than a scouting report for Arkansas State or South Alabama.

Such is life at the mid-major level, which is precisely why his head coach, Bob Marlin, spent all spring trying to get Payton into Chris Paul’s point guard camp. An invitation-only event stocked with some of the best high school and collegiate point guards from across the country, it would be the perfect place for a 6-foot-3 combo-guard to A) learn from some of the best skills instructors, including CP3 himself, and B) get some exposure, to be more than just a name known in Florida Atlantic’s locker room.

“We fought it pretty hard for about a month,” Marlin told NBCSports.com, but eventually, word came back that Payton would not be getting that invitation. “It was disappointing.”

And it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to him.

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Elfrid Payton is an opportunist.

Give him an inch, and he’s taking a yard. Let him get a foot in the door, and he’s busting through like Adrian Peterson catching a glimpse of the goal line.

As a 16 year old high school senior, Payton was 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, stuck playing second fiddle on a good John Ehret (LA) HS team that featured the more highly-regarded O.C. Tart. Payton was a Division I prospect, but he was the guy whose high school coach had to make calls on his behalf. That changed midway through the season, as Payton was given the reins to the team when Tart got himself suspended.

With a chance to show what he was capable of, Payton led Ehret to Louisiana’s state tournament semifinals, which just so happened to be played at UL’s Cajundome. At that point, Marlin had been recruiting Payton for about a month, Tulsa and New Mexico State were poking around, and Texas A&M had inquired about Payton attending prep school. A couple of weeks later, after visiting Payton at his high school, Marlin hosted Payton and his family on campus for an unofficial visit. Payton committed that day. “We just thought UL was the right place,” he told NBCSports.com. “It was close to home, my parents could come see my games, it was the right fit, and I could come in immediately and play, which was the biggest thing.”

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After a promising freshman season, Payton exploded as a sophomore, bolstered by a late growth spurt and an extra 20 pounds of muscle. It wasn’t enough to earn an invite to the Chris Paul camp, but Payton caught another break.

Sports Reach is a ministry that travels the world using athletics as a platform to share the Gospel. Based in Louisville, KY, it would only make sense that one of their main efforts involved basketball, and they’ve had some pretty prominent alumni. Jordy Hulls traveled with them in the summer of 2011. Peyton Siva, Victor Oladipo and Aaron White were on the team in 2012. This summer, Sports Reach had a point guard drop out of their two week trip to China, and when Marlin got word, he and Payton decided that it was probably his best chance at making a name for himself.

It wasn’t.

Unless you knew someone on that trip, you didn’t know about that trip.

But it forced Payton to get a passport, and that may have changed the course of his basketball career.

While Payton was on the trip, Marlin had a realization: Payton’s young for his age, as he turned 19 years old this February. That would make him eligible for the USA’s U-19 team, which is typically made up of high school seniors and college freshmen. Payton was due home in a couple of days, and the U-19 trials were due to start in about two weeks, but Marlin figured it was worth a shot to give the U-19 head coach, his old friend Billy Donovan, a call to make a pitch for Payton to get an invite to training camp.

“I know the trials have been set and it’s the last minute and I apologize, but I’ve got a young man that I think can help the team and bring some more experience to the group,” Marlin told Donovan. He referenced the 20 points and seven steals Payton had against Michigan State and the 17.5 points, 8.5 assists and 7.0 boards he had in two games against Richard Pitino’s FIU team. He told Donovan to ask around about this kid.

Donovan, Marlin said, told him that wasn’t necessary. He trusted his old friend’s opinion, and that a spot had opened up because Tyus Jones dropped out of the trials. Marlin would have to save the hard-sell for Sean Ford of USA Basketball, however. It was his decision to make.

When Marlin finally heard from Ford, the Men’s National Team Director, Ford only had two questions:

“Is Elfrid 19 years old?”

Yes. He turned 19 in February.

“Does he have a passport?”

Well, he does now.

From there, the story tells itself.

Payton was sensational during the training camp, beating out the likes of Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Dunn, Damyeon Dotson, Javan Felix and Rodney Purvis for a spot on the 12 man roster. He then beat out Nigel Williams-Goss, James Robinson, Michael Frazier and Justise Winslow for a spot in Team USA’s starting lineup, where he was featured alongside future lottery picks Marcus Smart and Rasheed Sulaimon.

“I thought if given the opportunity to show it, I can play with those guys,” Payton said. “Once I got the chance I was able to seize the opportunity.”

Payton earning a spot on the team turned him into a major story in the college hoops world in the slow month of June; Ragin’ Cajun point guards don’t often don the red, white and blue. But it was his on the court that really got people talking. Payton is as athletic slasher that is a nightmare to keep out of the paint and a misery to try to handle the ball against. He’s still learning some of the intricacies of being a point guard — how to run a team, how to read the pick-and-roll, when to pick his spots — but the talent and the effort level is there.

While Payton was putting up nine points, six assists and five steals in the U-19 final against Serbia, Marlin was fielding calls from NBA front office types asking how the heck this kid ended up at UL. Given the success of mid-major combo-guards in recent years — Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the NBA has started inquiring.

All Payton needed was the exposure.

And if he had gotten that invite from the Chris Paul camp in the spring, he wouldn’t have been on that trip to China. If he didn’t take that trip to China, he wouldn’t have had a passport when USA Basketball extended him an invite.

“Opportunities don’t come around a lot,” Payton said. “So when they do, it’s important that you make the most of them.”

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Marlin got the news while Payton was in Prague representing his country.

“We get the call, finally, and they ask him to come to Chris Paul camp,” Marlin said. “I told the guy, we waited and we waited and we didn’t hear anything back. I said, ‘we tried’, and he said, ‘well, he’s in now.'”

It wasn’t quite that simple, though. The Chris Paul camp happened to coincide with UL’s trip to Spain this August. Payton would have a decision to make: go on an exhibition tour with his team, or spend three days in Winston-Salem at the camp he had worked so hard to get into five months ago.

He declined the invitation.

“Chris Paul isn’t going anywhere,” Payton said. “I felt like I needed to spend some time with my teammates and get better with my team. The most important goal is to win a conference championship and to make a run in March, and I just wanted to be with my team at that time.”

“Little things and reasons that went into the decision that I didn’t get in [initially] did kind of put a chip on my shoulder, but everything happens for a reason. It was alright. I was able to experience the U-19. The whole thing about the Chris Paul camp was getting exposure, and the U-19s did that for me.”

No. 6 Notre Dame beats Chaminade 83-56 in Maui

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Matt Farrell scored 27 points and Bonzie Colson added 23, helping No. 13 Notre Dame open the Maui Invitational with an 83-56 rout over Division II Chaminade on Monday night.

Notre Dame (4-0) was sharp from the start at the offensive end, building a nine-point halftime lead and gradually extending it in the second half by making 14 of 26 shots.

The Irish shot 54 percent and made 9 of 20 from 3-point range to earn a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals against the Michigan-LSU winner.

Chaminade (2-1) kept it close early with its perimeter shooting before wearing down against the bigger Irish.

Erik Scheive had 17 points to lead tournament host Chaminade, which made 7 of 29 from 3-point range and shot 35 percent overall.

The Silverswords have made a name for themselves by slashing down giants, starting with their 1982 home victory over giant Ralph Sampson and top-ranked Virginia. Chaminade has picked up more upsets through the years at the Maui Invitational, taking down powers like Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova and Stanford with their ability to work the ball around quickly and knock down long-range shots.

The Silverswords opened this season with victories over Alaska and Alaska Anchorage, but the Irish are like a five-headed monster of length, athleticism and shooters.

They also have Colson, a do-it-all, preseason All-America Irish coach Mike Brey complimented by saying he has no neck and is a beautiful basketball player in the same sentence.

Chaminade, as usually is the case in Maui, kept it close early with its shooting, hitting 4 of 8 from 3-pont range.

Once Notre Dame expanded its defensive net, the Silverswords were unable to move without an Irish in their face, leading to a scoreless drought of more than 5 minutes.

Notre Dame created its own room to shoot, zipping around or rising above the Silverswords while hitting 14 of 26 shots to lead 38-29 at halftime. It would have been bigger, but Chaminade’s Brett Reed hit a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Farrell had 16 by halftime and kept shooting, scoring five quick points to put the Irish up 46-34, well on their way to the rout.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame played the way it needed to against a DII school, but will get a much bigger test in the semifinals.

Chaminade had some good moments before wearing down, but come away with another game of experience against a top-tier program, something that should help later in the season.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame faces the Michigan-LSU winner in Tuesday’s semifinals

Chaminade plays the Michigan-LSU loser.

Freshmen Bagley, Duval lead No. 1 Duke past Furman, 92-63

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — He dunked, he dished, he even hit a 3-pointer: Marvin Bagley III did everything he could to break the game open for top-ranked Duke.

Bagley III scored 24 points and the Blue Devils beat Furman 92-63 on Monday night in the on-campus round of the PK80.

Trevon Duval had a season-best 18 points, Wendell Carter Jr. added 14 and a fourth freshman — Alex O’Connell — scored 10 for Duke (5-0).

The Blue Devils shot nearly 61 percent and outscored Furman 64-28 in the paint, and have won all four of their games at Cameron Indoor Stadium by at least 17 points.

Bagley did it all during the 28-10 run late in the first half that put this one out of reach, scoring 11 points in 2½ minutes during that stretch. In addition to one of his authoritative dunks that already have become routine, he hit a couple of short jumpers and a layup, found Trevon Duval for a dunk and even made his second 3-pointer of the season.

“It was just a time in the game when I was hitting, my teammates kept finding me,” Bagley said. “They kept coming back to me, they believed in me enough to keep going and keep pushing, and I just executed on the plays we were running. It was one of those moments in the game when I was hot.”

Tougher tests await this team in the coming days in Portland, Oregon — possibly from No. 7 Florida or No. 17 Gonzaga in a later round of the event marking Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday.

This rout came after Duke strengthened its grip on the top spot in the AP Top 25, adding 20 more first-place votes to give the Blue Devils 54 of them — or, all but 11 of the 65 ballots cast.

John Davis III scored 15 points and Matt Rafferty added 11 for the Paladins (2-2), who have lost two straight.

BIG PICTURE

Furman: A few Paladins were familiar with Cameron: Two senior starters, Davis and Daniel Fowler, also started here as freshmen in 2014 when the Blue Devils beat them by 39 . As a team, they acquitted themselves much better in this visit, even leading for almost 5 early minutes. The other 35 were pretty rough, though, and they kept Furman winless against Duke since 1951 — when both schools were in the Southern Conference.

“With the pressure, Duke really turned the pressure up, and our guys started to dribble the ball instead” of passing it around, coach Bob Richey said. “They started trying to take the ball out of the high post … which basically kept us from cutting as much. … We struggled to finish (and) it compounded itself when we didn’t pass it and move it as well as we needed to.”

Duke: After a bit of a sluggish start, the Blue Devils got back to looking more like their dominant selves than last time out, a rather sloppy 17-point victory three nights earlier against a winless Southern team. After that game, coach Mike Krzyzewski bemoaned his team’s lack of practice time due to a busy week. No such issues this time.

“We practiced better these last two days — we practiced,” Krzyzewski said. “So of course we practiced better. And it showed.”

HIGHLIGHT REEL

There were plenty — Bagley’s slick pass inside to Duval for a dunk — but one pretty sequence came midway through the first half when Marques Bolden blocked Clay Mounce’s dunk attempt. That led to a fast break that ended with a corner 3 by Gary Trent Jr.

STAT LINES

Bagley finished one point shy of a season high. . Duke captain Grayson Allen finished with a season-low five points on 2-of-9 shooting, only attempting two shots in the second half and not getting to the foul line at all. He made up for that with a season-best six assists.

FIRE DRILL

Tip-off was delayed 15 minutes after a fire alarm in a second-floor men’s restroom was tripped and the building was briefly evacuated, Duke spokesman Mike DeGeorge said. The alarm went off about an hour before the scheduled start time.

UP NEXT

Furman: Faces New Hampshire on Friday in a PK80 game in Nashville, Tennessee.

Duke: Takes on Portland State on Thursday in the PK80 in Portland, Oregon.

No. 8 Kentucky holds off Troy down the stretch for 70-62 win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kevin Knox scored 17 points and No. 8 Kentucky built a big lead in the second half before having to withstand a late rally by Troy to hold on for a 70-62 victory on Monday night.

After having to rally in each of its previous games, the Wildcats (4-1) led throughout against the Trojans (2-3). They built a double-digit lead early and extended it to 21 twice in the second half, a needed cushion as Troy fought back to within eight on Wesley Person’s three-point play with 1:08 remaining.

Knox came up with the last of Kentucky’s season-high 53 rebounds that preserved its second victory in the Adolph Rupp Classic named for the legendary coach.

Quade Green had 13 points and reserve forward Wenyen Gabriel 12 for the Wildcats. Hamidou Diallo had a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.

Person had 17 points and Jordon Varnado and Kevin Baker 15 each for Troy.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: Entering the contest averaging 45 percent from 3-point range, the Trojans made just 1 of 14 in the first half and 4 of 27 overall. For a while they were nearly doubled up on the boards as a result and were beaten 53-30. Varnado extended his double-digit scoring streak dating back to last season to 23 games.

Kentucky: After making just 3 of 15 from the free throw line and committing a season-high 22 turnovers against East Tennessee State, the Wildcats improved in those and other statistical categories. They converted 15 of 23 chances, made just 16 turnovers this time and controlled rebounding by a 2-to-1 margin. But their lost focus and allowed the Trojans to make it interesting.

UP NEXT

Troy visits East Tennessee State on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before wrapping up play Monday against Illinois-Chicago.

Kentucky hosts Fort Wayne on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before taking Thanksgiving off.

Bluiett scores 21, No. 15 Xavier grinds down Hampton 96-60

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Trevon Bluiett followed his fabulous game against Wisconsin with a 21-point performance on Monday night, and 15th-ranked Xavier turned to its reserves while pulling away to a 96-60 victory over Hampton.

The Musketeers (4-0) got ahead by 32 points and took advantage of the chance to get playing time for their newcomers. Freshman Naji Marshall had 12 points and seven rebounds.

Xavier was coming off an 80-70 win at Wisconsin on Thursday night, when Bluiett led the way by scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. Against Hampton, Bluiett played 27 minutes.

Jermaine Marrow led Hampton (1-4) with 20 points. The Pirates quickly piled up the fouls while guarding the Musketeers — four of them had four fouls midway through the second half. Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. picked up a pair of technical fouls for arguing calls with 2:22 left and calmly walked off the court.

Xavier extended its streak of 33 straight wins over non-conference opponents at the Cintas Center.

BIG PICTURE

Hampton: Marrow is the key to the Pirates’ offense. He led the team in scoring in the first four games, averaging 22 points, including a 31-point performance against Florida A&M. Against the Musketeers, he went 7 of 25 from the field.

Xavier: The Musketeers lost their patience against Hampton’s zone defense in the first half, repeatedly dribbling into the middle of the court and losing the ball. They had seven turnovers in the half, which ended with the Musketeers up 43-31.

UP NEXT

Hampton plays Northern Arizona on Thursday.

Xavier plays George Washington on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Musketeers lead the all-time series 27-9 and have won eight straight, most recently in the 2012-13 season.

No. 12 Cincy holds off Buffalo 73-67.

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GEORGETOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Gary Clark scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and No. 12 Cincinnati held off Buffalo 73-68 on Monday night to close the opening round of the Cayman Islands Classic.

Kyle Washington added 14 points and Jarron Cumberland 13 for the Bearcats (4-0), who had breezed in their previous games.

C.J. Massinburg scored 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls (2-1). Jeremy Harris added a career-high 17 and Nick Perkins 14 as Buffalo cut a 13-point halftime deficit to four with 24 seconds left.

Two free throws by Clark made it 67-57 with 1:52 to play. Perkins hit a 3-pointer with 1:27 to go and Massinburg cashed in on a turnover with another 3 at 56. Clark made two more free throws with 35 seconds to go but Massinburg answered at the line 10 seconds later.

Jacob Evans made a free throw and, after a Buffalo miss, Cumberland slipped free for a dunk, making it a seven-point game with 10 seconds to go. Clark got a late free throw and Massinburg made a layup at the buzzer.

Massinburg had 19 points in the second half but the Bulls couldn’t keep Cincinnati off the line. The Bearcats were 17 of 21 in the second half, 27 of 35 for the game. Buffalo finished 11 for 17 and had two players foul out and four other players with four fouls.

Buffalo grabbed an early lead but two Nysier Brooks free throws put the Bearcats up 13-12 at the 13:20 mark and shortly after that a 12-0 run, built by five different players, made it 27-14. Cincinnati didn’t score after Cumberland’s layup at the 3:52 mark but the Bulls only got a layup and it was 39-26 at the half. Cumberland had 10 at intermission.

BIG PICTURE

Buffalo: Perkins and Dontay Caruthers fouled out for Cincinnati, Massinburg, Montell McRae, Davonta Jordan and Brock Bertram had four each. … Buffalo was outrebounded 43-39 but was plus-3 on the offensive end. … The Bulls were looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 1986-87. They went 2-0 for just the fifth time at the Division I level.

Cincinnati: Clark had 17 points in the second half and picked up his 20th double-double. … The Bearcats won their first three by an average of 41.3 with a rebounding difference of 25 a game. … Cincinnati isn’t going to get a chance to boost its strength of schedule as Iowa was bounced by Louisiana-Lafayette 80-71 in the opening game of the tournament.

UP NEXT

Buffalo takes on UAB on Tuesday.

Cincinnati takes on Richmond.